Interview with Anico Mostert(b. 1995, South Africa)
Dani: Tell me about your studies in Art?
Anico: Yes so I went to the University of Cape Town and I studied Fine Art there at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, it is part of UCT but the campus is in the city. There I did Fine Art for four years where you start out doing all of the mediums, so you do painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, printmaking briefly learning the techniques of each. In the second year you choose two, I chose photography and printmaking to focus on and then in your third year you choose one, I chose printmaking. During my third year I made a lot of monotypes, which is like the printmaking technique closest to painting, but I never painted whilst I was studying. I never made one painting! In my fourth and final year you have the whole year to prepare an exhibition, mine was an installation including a lot of videos, installations, projecting the videos in weird ways.
Then I left Michaelis and I was like what do I do now? It took me a solid year, a year where I didn’t make anything, and I was very depressed. During this time I moved back home to my parents house, then I started painting and drawing in my room and I was working at a printmaking studio as an assistant. When that internship ended I got back in to making my own work and that is when I started drawing more and making small oil paintings. I started posting these on Instagram and slowly but surely people started paying attention and I built up a following. For the longest time I sold my paintings to this one town called Nelspruit (sp?) where I had this group of ‘aunties’ who all bought my work and all supported me! Then I started working at a gallery, I kept sending out the same email every day to different galleries, whilst also waitressing and working for a ceramist making her candle holders and then covid happened.
D: So during this time you were painting whilst working?
A: By that time, I was still living with my parents, they had a little shed in the backyard, and I made that in to a studio. It was a tiny wooden shed. So when I wasn’t working or on the weekends I would paint. At that time, I didn’t think that would be what I do permanently or professionally, I never thought that would be a thing. Then covid happened and I lost my job at the gallery and the ceramicist also struggled as well as the restaurant which shut down for a while, so then I was really happy because I had all of this new time to spend in the studio and from there it just grew and grew and grew. I then started taking part in exhibitions and building more contacts and paying attention and working bigger and trying new things, making it more like a business. I have a good friend back home who was in the same year as me and we studied together, it’s funny because our careers have kind of paralleled. I do something, then a few months later she does something. It is really nice to have someone to ask advice, share tips and chat about the art world with.
D: Do you think if covid hadn’t happened you would still be in the same position you were before?
A: I think covid made it happen quicker because it gave me more time, if covid hadn’t happened the whole process would have been slower, like more gradually, whereas with covid I was suddenly spending more time in the studio every day.
D: So covid made you paint more intensively?
A: Yeah, I think I would have to got where I am now but in a different way. I think I would have questioned it a lot more. It made it easier knowing the world is at a standstill otherwise I think I would have done a lot of other things that would have distracted me. Like I was working as a fashion stylist assistant for this company for a month and I was just like, I can’t do this so I quit. That was a year before covid, and only lasted a month but I just knew I cant do this! It was horrible, in this office in the city, I had an old desk with a computer and I had to fetch clothes and bring it to the shoot and go and get food and pretend to be busy on the computer! It was awful, horrible.
D: All these things shape you, I think it turned out well for you!
A: I am very grateful.
D: So, what is your practice based on? The subject matter, in terms of technique, why do you use so much paint or how do you choose your colours? Who are the people you depict, where do you find them?
A: For me it changes all of the time but I think in terms of the colours, now is a perfect example of how I use colour. Before coming to Mexico I really struggled to paint with blue, I never started a painting with blue, but as soon as I arrived, I just started painting with so much blue, there is blue everywhere! I think it is a reflection of my environment, I feel there is a lot of blue. It is reflective of how I feel and things that I see subconsciously. I’ll start a painting and it will turn out really blue and then maybe a week later I will realise it might be because I visited the Casa Frida Kahlo, maybe that’s why! Or the bright colours, the market is super bright and vibrant and busy. I think those small bright paintings are a reflection of that experience.
D: Would you say you have a photographic memory?
A: I think a lot of colours and even the people in the paintings are from my unconscious but I am aware of it, it’s often that I paint it then afterwards I recognise why or I recognise a feeling or a mood or a colour, where the colour came from. Or an interaction, I like to paint people interacting. My first solo exhibition was all about intimacy between people and intimacy that you can have with a space or an object. I also often paint these really sassy people, I haven’t done that here yet, for some reason all of the people are quite sad, not sad but pensive. I often paint people that are very bold.
D: From what we have seen of your work, from the DOMESTICADA exhibition, I remember seeing confident people.
A: It’s people that exist in this world who are very aware, they can be very confident and confrontational almost but at the same time they can be quiet and still.
D: Is there a reason why you often don’t paint faces? Why do you sometimes avoid their facial expression?
A: I do this because then I feel it is too specific. Ultimately what I really like is a person standing in front of a painting to see what they want to see, I don’t want to tell you what you need to see or what you need to feel, or what you need to make of a painting. The goal is that you stand in front of any kind of artwork and you experience it from your point of view. I feel if it is too deliberate, if I am trying too hard. But this is not always the case. Sometimes I do paint the face but they almost look like a creature, not exactly like a human. I’m not sure why I do this, perhaps to show the mood or the feeling that that person in the painting is experiencing or wanting to experience. I feel like the people in the paintings can be direct, if they were a real person, can sometimes be quite direct of what they want the person looking at them to feel but I don’t want to do that. By removing the face, I take away that it is a specific person but they are more a representation of a feeling. I aim to evoke the mood of the figures rather than depict and name them as specific people.
D: You also depict still lifes and landscapes, what is your focus on figures related to?
A: Often I struggle to give people a context in terms of like, I don’t often paint the room they are in or the background, almost colour-blocked. The still life, in my mind, is when they left. So it’s like the figures were here at one point, part of the still life but have now moved on.
D: So are they all linked?
A: Not necessarily, that room could also be this room (gestures to two of her new works). It is just a different perspective. I also sometimes just paint what I like! I like butterflies, so I paint butterflies. Or my friend took a photo of me that I like, so I painted that.
D: So your work is mostly visual references?
A: Yeah, it is very much a combination. It reflects my world, my interactions, my mood and how I feel. And then I use images I see around to try and show that.
D: All of your work has your signature style, the brushstroke is very particular. I also like how you can see your mood, whether you are happy or sad.
A: Which is not intentional! I like it when someone can walk in and almost immediately, they can know what they see, in terms of emotion and how they feel. It is always so interesting to hear what people have to say. For example with my previous exhibition, in my mind all of the paintings were very sad and lonely, but then other people because of the colours they think my work is quite comical and quirky. Which it is in a way, with the elongated arms that are flopping around but some people, because of the colours, they think my work is quite cheerful like these large ones *Anico points to larger canvases in her studio*. I think the people in the ‘sad’ paintings, they know that in another moment later on they might feel better. They are very aware of that, the people in the paintings. They accept that in that moment they feel lonely or small but maybe tomorrow I’ll feel better. That is how I think of the people.
D: I feel like the works are projections of yourself, intentionally or unintentionally.
A: Of course. Sometimes, with the lady with the phone or when they are wearing crazy sunglasses, its either when I was feeling confident or something that I would like to feel or admire.
D: In your career, what is your biggest achievement?
A: So far a big moment for me was having my first solo show in Cape Town and seeing how well it was received, I didn’t expect that at all. I had all my friends and family around me, my family moved to Europe the next day so the timing of it all made it a really special evening. It was emotional, a really happy evening. You know when you can feel something is really special and you are trying to hold on to it, especially as my family was there. It was also thundering, we never get really big thunder in Cape Town so that felt like a sign! Also, honestly coming here. I have always wanted to come to Mexico City and it felt so far away and impossible. Sometimes I walk around and can’t believe I am here, it is so crazy to me.
D: Would you say you have any historical influences in your practice?
A: I think that happens unintentionally but I would say the biggest influence comes from the current world around me, images that I see on my phone and people painting now and making work now. I’m influenced by my friends and the people that I meet. The people I surround myself with and the environments I find myself in more so than me going back and looking at a specific artist from back in the day. When I arrived in Mexico City I really liked a female Mexican painter, I looked at her work and then made this painting so sometimes it does happen. (NAME OF PAINTER?) If I look at a specific work and think hmm I like those colours or the way she painted the space, but I don’t think it is one person or artist in particular. I have a folder of photos which includes my own photos, photos I find from the internet, I’ll kind of collage it in my mind or go through a bunch of photos on my phone and then create a composition. In essence, I grab inspiration from everywhere and make it my own.
D: Do you think your art contributes to society or offers something to the people around you?
A: I am very much aware that with my work, especially coming from where I come from, I have to be so aware of my position. At the same time I don’t think there is anything wrong with making images that are either beautiful or that make people feel something, I think that in itself contributes. If that is what happens when people look at my painting then that’s a little contribution to that person. Even if someone just likes (my painting), I feel like that contributes as that person is feeling something or is connected to something.
D: So it allows space for a relationship with that object.
A: Yes exactly, which I think is important. That is what brings joy to life, if you feel connected to something or someone. So if my painting can do that for someone then that’s really amazing, because that is how I feel about other peoples work. Sometimes I’ll see something that I like so much I almost want to eat it! It is such a cool feeling, like when you look at someone’s work and you recognise something in it and you are trying to figure out what it is. A nice distraction from life!
D: You grew up in Cape Town. Do you feel CT somehow influenced your practice?
A: Definitely, because that is where my life is and every day moments. The city itself is quite big, where I am from in CT is a like a seaside town and its very small with not that much happening so when I started painting it was a very quiet suburb area. My mother was gardening and I think in that way it contributes to how it paint in the way of spending a lot of time in one place until something happens. When I would sit and work in my studio it would always just be me and my thoughts. Even now I work in a shared studio with other artists but I always just the door when I work so that I can focus on my thoughts. The city made me very anxious. You can drive to the beach, drive to the mountains, be in suburbs, be in the city. Everything is very close to each other, different environments so you can jump from one to the other. It is very beautiful, in terms of like the oceans and the mountains, the mountains are incredible in CT. Also we have so many different cultures in CT, it is a very dynamic place in general, South Africa. So in some ways all of that influences me.